DIY CNC Router – Post 4: Spindle Power Wiring

The CNC spindle I ordered off AliExpress arrived. It is a little heavier and more industrial than I imagined. As seems to be my modus operandi, I did not really know what I had ordered until I got it home:

  1. A big motor. Turns out it’s a 3-phase induction motor. I’d read somewhere that motors could run off AC – that the ones in washing machines do – but I think my school electronics ended at DC motors. Having a 4HP motor sitting in front of me kind of bamboozled (and scared ) me a bit. There are no instructions.
  2. A chunky aluminium holder for the motor (more weight).
  3. A Variable Frequency Driver: A Huanyang Inverter which I think is the most common one for CNC spindles. It did have an instruction manual, titled “the use of manual” – you can guess how useful a 70-page tome like that is going to be to someone who’s electrical knowledge does not extend much beyond UK A-levels
  4. No wire to go between the motor and the VFD, just a bizarre 4-pin plug that connects into the motor (and delivers the 3 phase power) with possibly the most ambiguous numbering you could devise.
  5. A dozen collets for holding bits in motor (that’s okay) and the holding nut (which looked like it was damaged – see below)
  6. A submersible water pump for a garden goldfish pond – for cooling the spindle.

The four pin plug that goes into the motor (which needs only three). Note the numbering – ambiguous – doubly so since 1 to 4 do not seem to correspond to anything relevant whatsoever. After some research turns out it’s sometimes called an aviation plug, or a GX16-4. They are used in the music business for microphones.

The VFD: The ‘motor’ label has three inputs (not two, as I am used to, or four, like the spindle I bought) and there are A LOT of other bits I can attach wires to. I do not like it…but at least no soldering.

First task: Work out induction motors, three-phase and how I get power from my house AC to the motor

What I learnt about induction motors, three-phase power and what the VFD does.

Induction motors….

I am none the wiser why you’d use an induction motor over a DC one (or vice-versa).

If you google it, you get a lot of unsatisfactory answers champ(chump?)ioning both causes. I am not sure people who know the answer to that question post on websites where these things are debated, so according to The Internet, the jury is still out. Tesla uses induction motors in their car (from a DC battery), Toyota Priuses use brushless DC motors. This article from the Telsa blog is probably as good a comparison as a layman like me is going to get. As the article notes, Nikola Tesla did invent the three-phase induction motor so perhaps Telsa Motors potentially could have a little of a bias? Anyway, despite this, the article concludes ‘either – or’ for AC vs DC.

My limited knowledge of induction motors can be summarised thus:

  • They don’t have permanent magnet or brushes. The rotation is generated by induction. Regular DC motors have brushes and magnets. Brushless DC motors, just magnets.
  • They are super-common (bathroom fans, washing machines, dryers etc). Which makes sense, 45% of worldwide electric power is used by motors, and most (pretty much all) electric power is delivered as AC. Indeed, the aforementioned article from Tesla says:

The fact that induction motors are directly compatible with conventional utility power is the main reason for their success

  • They can run on single phase (i.e. most on the ones in a home) or three phase (or whatever phase) – depending on what they are designed for
  • They rotate at a speed proportional to the incoming alternating current frequency. So many induction motors in use do one speed, and one speed only….until you stick in a VFD…

Variable Frequency Drives (VFD)…

  • Produce alternating current at varying frequencies (three-phase here) so the rotation speed of an induction motor can be changed and controlled.
  • Some/most(?) VFDs (the one I have bought anyway) convert the incoming (single frequency) AC to DC with a rectifier, and then (using magic) produce the (three phase in this case) AC from this DC – perhaps with an inverter? Which means your single phase input AC comes out as three phase power from (my) VFD. Woohoo!!!! I think my VFD does take three phase power input too if I had it…

Three-Phase Power…

  • Utility power, in most places around the world, is three-phase. There are exceptions, for instance, a few US states do single phase. I read Russia went with DC power for a bit – its AC 220V 50Hz now. Wrong (though maybe not incorrect) call USSR: sitting there watching Betamax on your DC power.
  • Why three-phase power for main utility power transmission? From what I understand, it carries more power in fewer wires with lower losses. Which is why you’d want it powering your industrial induction motors too.
  • Why two-phase power for mains around the house? Two wires are simpler and cheaper.

Wiring my Spindle (for Power)

Note the in-brackets bit. I’ll get round to the spindle control wiring some other time.

Did any of the above help with my wiring my spindle? Not really. Nor did the very helpful labelling on the 4-pin connector to the 3-phase motor.

I decided to email the guy, Evon from China (that’s all I know I him), who sold it to me. He emailed a day or so later with a video and pin diagram for the connector plug. It the meantime I had fallen back on my slightly-autist “I am going to draw a little table of all the options and try them all” method. As luck would have it I came to the same conclusion as the manufacturer 😉  Ha ha! That’s how the robots will do it you know! Evon’s vedo and pulg diagram below:

Evon’s wiring diagram for the weird plug. Only useful when you read somewhere that 3-phase U, V & W can be (by some conventions) red, yellow and blue respectively.

I am not going to post photos of my connections:

  • I don’t what anyone copying me and either smoking the spindle/ motor or their heart/house/family.
  • The DIY/ unconfirmed expert electrics fraternity on the net are not very friendly:
    1. Replies to question of mine on electronics stack exchange (yep, still sensitive)
    2. This guy for posting how he connected his spindle (trying to be helpful, no doubt). He got comments with bad Karma

I can say I have three main wires going in (2-phase and earth) and three (three-phase and earth) coming out to the motor. I added an earth to the motor because it seemed like a grown up thing to do (the second reason ;)) and the control software I am going to uses an earth to probe fro the CNC tool bit (the actual reason).

The ‘Damaged’ Holding Nut

The ‘damaged’ holding nut. Looks like drill bit marks. Evan says is to balance the spindle….

Evon from China, said the nicks out of the spindle collet holding nut balance the spindle. I would love to see how that is done. I am going to accept that as an answer from Evan. I do wonder about the holding nut being separate from the spindle works: I’d think that a different rotation/tightness on the nut will change the balance? Anywho, It is better than returning the part for a replacement, or going to the/a Chinese Ombudsman(?!?! pretty sure that does not translate).

I did wonder if on my next trip to China I could just rock up at the factory – surprise Evon – maybe have a meat tea with him?

A pot of tea I was served in China

Why the tea tasted (nicely) meaty

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